Falcons have issues but Blank may be right about playoff projection

April 29, 2016 Flowery Branch - Falcons first-round pick Keanu Neal speaks as Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (left) and coach Dan Quinn sit next him during a press conference at the Falcons' Flowery Branch Headquarters Complex on Friday, April 29, 2016. With the 17th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Falcons selected defensive back Keanu Neal of Florida. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (left) and coach Dan Quinn (right) are counting on big things from first-round pick Keanu Neal, a strong safety and the team’s first round draft pick last week. (Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com)

Arthur Blank says his Falcons will be a playoff team in 2016. I’m not quite ready to commit yet.

I spoke to Blank for about 30 minutes and during the conversation he again expressed confidence in his football hierarchy (general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn), said he believes his team will be in the playoffs next season and addressed his health following surgery for prostate cancer in February.

To read Blank’s comments on Falcons’ playoff projections, click here.

To read the full question-and-answer with Blank, click here.

My thoughts on the Falcons this offseason are somewhat mixed.

Things I like:

The signing of center Alex Mack. The Falcons’ offensive line never recovered from the decision to push center Todd McClure into retirement. Draft pick Peter Konz and others were unable to fill the void and that adversely affected both the offensive line and quarterback Matt Ryan. Mack should help immensely.

• The decisions to draft for defense first. We can debate ad nauseam whether Quinn/Dimitroff overreached for safety Keanu Neal with the 17th overall pick, but the truth is nobody knows — least of all everybody who participates in this annual knucklehead tradition of grading drafts. As Michael Cunningham illustrated, the Falcons earned poor draft grades overall, but the individual “grades” rank from an A- (NFL.com) to a D (Sports Illustrated). So to say it’s subjective would be an understatement. Drafts are, and always have been, about player evaluation, not about someone’s mock draft. Quinn believes Neal and second round pick Deion Jones, an outside linebacker, are perfect fits for his defense. We’ll find out if he’s right. At the very least, there’s a lot more speed on that side of the ball.

• The decision to not blow up the offensive coaching staff: I know offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan took a beating publicly last season and he clearly had some missteps with some in-game decisions and his use of personnel. But to change schemes after one season could have had an adverse effect on Ryan, who may not be on stable ground as it is. To me, it made perfect sense to give the Shanahan-Ryan team another year to make it work. There were signs of improvement with the offense in the last few games of the season.

Things I’m uncertain about:

• There were no obvious move to improve the pass rush, which last year accounted for an NFL low 19 sacks. (At the other end of the spectrum: Super Bowl winner Denver with 52.) Quinn, a defensive coach by trade, is counting on two things: 1) Improved speed and pass coverage on the second and third levels of the defense to give more time to pass rushers to get to opposing quarterbacks; 2) Returning players’ increased familiarity with the defense to speed up their thought process and their game. Me, I’d like a pass rusher with a resume.

• Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, a free agent signee, may prove to be a valuable piece for the offense, both as a receiver and on reverses. But he was the No. 3 receiver in Cincinnati and the Falcons gave him a five-year, $32.5 million contract ($14 million guaranteed), quite a leap for a general non-starter who saw his reception total drop from 56 to 33. I’ve made no secret that I believed the Falcons’ erred last season in their (non-)use of Roddy White. I believe the receiving corps could’ve been improved with a more modest investment.

• It’s difficult to get a feel for Quinn or his staff based on last season alone. The Falcons went from starts of 5-0 and 6-1 to a six-game losing streak and an 8-8 finish. Who does that? That’s not saying the Falcons underachieved at 8-8, given the personnel turnover and scheme change (and the fact they went 10-22 over the previous two years). But so many extreme highs and lows in one season don’t convey stability. Quinn did a number of good things in his first season but he also made mistakes, like choosing to kick a chip-shot field goal down by four points in the final minutes at San Francisco, and failing to adequately prepare his team during the losing streak –including a home loss to Tampa Bay, a road loss at San Francisco and a road loss at Tampa Bay. But they did rebound from that 38-0 loss at Carolina.

My thoughts on 2016: I’m interested to see how the loss of cornerback Josh Norman impacts Carolina’s defense. I also wonder whether the Panthers will return to earth after a 15-1 regular season and a Super Bowl run.

I believe overall that the Falcons have improved themselves and therefore could be a playoff team next season but I would still give the NFC South to Carolina.

Reader Comments 0

42 comments
Terris Williams
Terris Williams

he says this every year \U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602

JB Falcon
JB Falcon

My posts don't usually work. Well, it did!

Very Good article Jeff!

Gris Julian GP
Gris Julian GP

The first 8 games dont look good, especially with Kyle Shiteyhan as OC. He cost is 6 in a row. His incompetence may fly in the AFC South and NFC East, but it costs games in the NFC South. Defense is gonna be monster though!!

Greg Childs
Greg Childs

And I will win the next Powerball Lottery do the rest of you may as well save your money. NOT!!

Joseph Braentley Hicks Jr
Joseph Braentley Hicks Jr

So, the expectation is not to make it or win the Suer Bowl, but to MAKE the playoffs? LMFAO.

Shawn Bausman
Shawn Bausman

...and the Browns will win the super bowl this year!

aaroncwill
aaroncwill

@JeffSchultzAJC Derrick Shelby and speedy LBs and a SS don't improve the pass rush? Maybe not a whole lot but definitely some.

Ian DeLeon
Ian DeLeon

They must have an offensive line up their sleeve.

Jones Maze
Jones Maze

Not unless they get rid of Matt ryan

Grady Byrd
Grady Byrd

Dimitrioff and Quinn, do you feel the pressure?

CareySahlbom
CareySahlbom

They should, and mr blank should really feel the heat going into a new stadium in 2017.

Gman84
Gman84

Rankin Blank + TD + Quinn = Awful oraganization and continued losing

TideDawg
TideDawg

Every coach wants to draft/buy players with special talents that fit his idea of the team he wants to develop. Suppose Quinn gets fired after 3 seasons of mediocre play. A new coach comes in with a different scheme and idea of what he wants to develop and all of those special talented players that the team accumulated under the previous coach don't fit his ideas. So what do you do....start over again? In my opinion, that's why you draft the best players available, not just players with specialized talents for one scheme. The people that do the drafting are professionals and know football....I do not qualify in either. The track record of Falcon draftees tends to prove the point. Too many high draft choices that don't stick around very long. Fill a need!! I guess that's the correct thing to do, but should you pass on a quality player that could improve another position? If you have two defensive ends that are OK, would you pass on a player like J.J. Watt to fill another position of need with a lesser player? I trust the Falcons know what they are doing....somewhat.

Eric Lahr
Eric Lahr

No, you cannot debate that they overreached for Neal, they did. Even if he was their guy, they could have traded back and still drafted him. Heck, they maybe could have gotten him with their 2nd pick.

TideDawg
TideDawg

With my limited knowledge, I agree, and thought the same thing. I never heard the guy's name mentioned as a high draft pick. The Falcons could have traded down and still could have gotten him along with a couple of other picks.

TOJacket
TOJacket

Did they influence your post in any way?

Dawg^2
Dawg^2

The Falcon's draft was a complete train wreck.  We should have picked up 2 defensive lineman (they were everywhere in this draft) and an offensive lineman all in the first 3 rounds.  Strong safety (glorified linebacker) and linebacker are the easiest positions to fill, and an undersized tight end when that is another easy position to fill.  After the 3rd round we can take chances, because if they make the team it's a bonus.  Neal would have been a third round pick, and I never would have taken him.  He has average speed and is undersized, and his tackling stats were not good.  It's amazing how people can suck at their jobs and still have one, with a big paycheck.  I won't be watching this train wreck!

HotDawg
HotDawg

Is King Arthur ready to retire to his next mistress/wife?

He's done enough. Between the cancer, mistresses, charities, a lifetime of home depot, falcon, soccer, stadium building, etc, etc.

The man must be worn out and time to take a time out.

Atlanta appreciates what you have done Arthur.

You are the King.

Go enjoy your kids and ladies.

You've got nothing else to prove.

Just keep the checkbook open for the Atlanta Falcon fans. And maybe think about buying the Braves please.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@HotDawg Couldn't you just picture Arthur in the dugout in full uniform........with the knee sock look!

Paul Foster
Paul Foster

I have watched this play out for 50 years. Decent offence and except for two years a less than good defence. I remember the run and shoot the offence scored 25-30 points a game but the defence would give up 40. As always I'm left shaking head and hoping for a lot of LUCK!!!

atlfalconno1fan
atlfalconno1fan

love the falcons...but in order to be a team thats super bowl capable the must get rid of matt ryan..they need a russell wilson type quarterback  a triple threat so to say..run,throw,accuracy when throwing..we cant get the great russell wilson but in order to compete they must have someone like the talented russell wilson..matt ryan is no russell wilson.the bitter taste of his interception against the hated saints lingers 

HotDawg
HotDawg

Could it be all you care about is color?

Get rid of you

TOJacket
TOJacket

@atlfalconno1fan Yea, either that or a white QB who doesn't triple threat......but does under inflate the balls for an advantage!

TideDawg
TideDawg

So far! Atlanta sports writers have Eason leading the Dawgs to the National Championship, The Falcons going to the playoffs, and the Braves winning their division ......all in 2017. It's amazing what pollen can do to a man's brain.

HotDawg
HotDawg

Who said all that and when, exactly?

Didn't think so.

RandyFalcon
RandyFalcon

Last year we go 8-8 with the easiest schedule in the NFL. This year we have maybe the toughest. So it stands to reason that we have to improve just to go 8-8 again. But did we improve? This was in my opinion a typical Falcons offseason. Start with a solid signing that gets the fans excited. (Mack) Sign a few middle of the roaders that may be slight upgrades. Then make draft picks that leaves most of us confused. Of course my crystal ball is no better than yours but here's what I think. We did improve. Probably just enough to go 8-8 or maybe even 9-7. Playoffs? Well I have seen 9-7 teams in the playoffs.  

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

With their schedule, I think another 8-8 or 9-7 is going to be a positive result. 

slydawg
slydawg

I understand what Coach Quinn is trying to build, a run and hit defense, but I have one question: In a draft so deep with defensive line talent, and a team last in sacks in consecutive years, why not select 1?

CareySahlbom
CareySahlbom

@slydawg  You are absolutely right!  should have been a defensive end with pass rushing skills 1st  and then Neal the safety in 2nd, he probably will still be there as he was a not rated any higher than mid 2nd round to third round pick. Then in the 3rd round we should have waited on a tight end and drafted a strong guard which were available.  Falcons do this every year with Dummytroff and now Quinn,  focus like lasers on player they want without a backup plan, terrible for us long suffering fans!

E983
E983

I'm still wondering some 4 days after this year's draft what did we this team accomplish. I did like the pick up of Hooper. This player could last us for many years. The rest left me scratching my head Jeff.